Thar Be Whales Here!!!!

Platform Grace on the Peace on May 01, 2001

By Mike Brennan

So the cry went out and man, let me tell you, I have never seen the galley empty out so fast as it did when a blue whale graced us with its presence in the Santa Barbara Channel last Saturday. Barely a few minutes later Captain Eric announces over the PA that there is a pod of dolphins off the starboard bow, and 32 divers again rush out to see cascades of dolphins breaching in all directions.

We had just made two dives at the oil platform Grace and were kicking back in the jacuzzi on the way to Anacapa. The Peace was chartered by the folks at Dive n' Surf and it was a very rewarding day in the water. We were allowed two 40 minute dives on the oil rig and we soaked up every minute we could! Platform Grace isn't quite the same as the Eureka; it seems more user friendly, with different species of inverts growing on the structure. The cap'n backed the boat up so we could hit the water and make a bee-line for the interior of the rig and submerge from there.
When we first hit the water, we were a little distraught at the vis but as we dropped below 40 fsw, the yellowish haze lightened up and when we hit 60, a gorgeous panorama greeted us! We could see the horizontal cross-members below at 90 and the vertical members looked like they extended out of one side of infinity and into the other. The place reminded me of some science fiction movie set, with Metridium encrusted colums soaring up into the murky light as far as the eye could see and at the same time, plunging into the abyssal blackness below. The place had the air of a long submerged temple or palace of Atlantis. Every surface was covered with a lush coating of white plumose anemones with Corynactis here and there along with lemon dorids, brittle stars, mussels and oh yeah, my favorite of favorites, that sweet mollusc of the Gods; SCALLOPS!!! the best ones were on the horizontal members at 90 fsw. Needless to say, I limited out with ease! The spectacle under the plankton was so fantastic, that we didn't even notice the cold! We were at 90 fsw, with old 7mm farmer Johns, in 50 degree water. I could tell my buddies were freezing their butts off when they couldn't hold their lights still. My own puny Mini Q40 was adequate in the gloom but oh, what I wouldn't have given for an EE Pro 14 cannister with an 18W HID head! It was dark down there below the gloom, and in the shadow of the platform. Two dives of 40 minutes each was all we could handle and we headed back to the boat shivering uncontrollably!
We did our safety stops at 30 fsw, given the elevator rides in the rough surge at 15. Even the safety stops were neat, as we could see all sorts of exotic comb jellies and other gelatinous plankton drifting and pulsating past. The Peace does Nitrox fills so I took advantage of that with a 37.5% mix for the first dive topped off with 32% for the second. I left the camera on the boat for those dives. The rigs are no place for task loading while shivering in cold, murky surgy water! Grabbing scallops while totin' a stage bottle was bad enough! My hands got so numb that I was afraid I'd drop my goody bag or knife, so I held on as tight as my frozen hand muscles would allow. Arrrgh! Time to fix my damn drysuit!

Our third dive was at the backside of Anacapa at a place called Coral Reefs. We stepped off the bow to be greeted by a two knot current. I pulled myself and my camera hand over hand down the anchor line and spent a half hour or so taking pictures of Spanish shawl nudibranchs and serpulid worms before the cold caught up with me. It was quite tranquil on the bottom. I tried to tie a jon line on the way back up for a nice long safety stop, but some well-meaning divers unhooked it for me. Oh well, grin and bear it! The trip back to the swimstep was fast and effortless in the relentless current.

The boat anchored at West End Caves for the 4th dive but a ferrocious headache convinced me to call it quits at three. I don't usually poop out, but I was just at West End Caves, two weeks earlier (ran out of film there as a matter of fact), so it's not like I had never dove there. Now there's another great macro photog spot, with scallops too!

The Dive n' Surf DM was excellent! She was conscientous and observed each one of us to see what was what. The divers all seemed very capable in the water and very fun-loving on the surface intervals. It was an superb day on an excellent boat with great company. Guess I'll just have to reserve a spot on the weekend of June 9th and do it again!

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